Curriculum Integration in a High Stakes Testing World|
As a result of the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001, states have developed strict new assessments to measure student achievement. Rooted in reform efforts to increase accountability, No Child Left Behind (NCLB) was designed to ensure that all students achieve academic success.
To adhere to the requirements of NCLB, school districts are closely aligning the curriculum with rigorous state standards for core academic subjects. Annual statewide assessments are intended to measure the degree to which student learning occurs. When schools fail to show that students are making adequate progress toward proficiency in the standards, schools (and sometimes teachers) are held accountable.
Integrated Curriculum – What's the Point?
With the added responsibility of preparing students for graduation exams and other high stakes tests, teachers are under tremendous pressure to provide the support students need to succeed. An integrated approach to the curriculum can be an effective way to meet the challenges of the high stakes environment while engaging students in learning.
Studies show that students learn best when curriculum contents are related to each other and connected to real life experiences. As schools demand high standards for all students, it is increasingly important that we engage students in real-world problem solving as they gain the knowledge and skills required of them.
Increasing Student Retention Middle school teachers are well aware of the myriad of external factors that influence and sometimes impair student learning. Students of the middle age group are often unmotivated to become serious learners. In many incidences, students do not seem to retain the knowledge and skills presented to them in the classroom. One finding concerning student retention shows that:
Research such as this further supports the case for de-compartmentalizing learning and relating content areas. When curricula are integrated, students are afforded more opportunities to read, hear, and see information. Learning has meaning and students have more time to "say and do."
(Sandra Rief, 1993)
|10 percent of what they read
|20 percent of what they hear
|30 percent of what they see
|50 percent of what they see and hear
|70 percent of what they say
|90 percent of what they say and do
Types of Integration The broad terms "integrated curriculum" and "interdisciplinary curriculum" encompass many models that provide for curriculum integration in varying degrees. All are designed to increase the relevancy of learning experiences.
|Models for Integrating the Curriculum
- Connected Key concepts are connected topic to topic within the discipline. Example: Decimals are connected to percents, which are related to money.
- Nested Multiple social, thinking, and content skills are targeted within each subject. Example: Science teacher uses the water cycle to illustrate sequencing.
- Sequenced Topics are rearranged and taught in two or more subjects simultaneously. Example: English class reads a Civil War novel at the same time as this period is being taught in American history.
- Shared Overlapping concepts or skills are taught in two or more subjects through the use of team planning or teaching. Example: Line graphs are used to collect data in math, science, and social studies classrooms.
- Webbed Use of thematic teaching as a base for instruction in many disciplines. Example: A single theme such as "festivals" is webbed into multiple subject areas.
- Threaded Thinking and social skills, as well as multiple intelligences and study skills are threaded through the various subjects. Example: Critical thinking skills such as making inferences or showing cause and effect are used in several disciplines.
- Integrated Overlapping topics and concepts are taught by interdepartmental teams. Example: Content is approached through patterns and relationships among the disciplines.
The National Middle School Association encourages educators to expand their use of integrated curriculum formats. Implementation of interdisciplinary methods includes making sure the curriculum is:
Getting Started Whichever methods of integration are used, there are a multitude of benefits to middle school interdisciplinary studies. Schools and districts use these methods in a variety of fashions based on their resources and facilities. Ideally, common planning periods for interdisciplinary teams and administrative support provide the greatest degree of curriculum integration. However, all schools can initiate integrated curricula simply by taking a few easy steps:
- relevant to student needs
- academically challenging
- aligned to state standards and assessments
- developmentally appropriate
- structured to foster relationships between and among learners, teachers, and the content itself
|Ideas for Making Integration Work
- Enlist the support of principals and other administrators and ask them to encourage interdisciplinary experimentation.
- Have curriculum discussions among teachers of different disciplines to identify common content areas, themes, or stands.
- Talk about ways two or more subject areas can implement an integrated unit.
- Make use of sources beyond the textbook for your integrated lessons.
- Develop alternative assessments, such as projects, that reflect the goals of the unit.
- Share the results of your integrated unit with your local community.
- Add new integrated strategies at regular intervals throughout the school year.
Supporters of curriculum integration view education as a process by which students examine concepts and themes to see how they "fit" together. The more ways teachers use to connect curriculum, the more relevant the content is for the students.
The integrated approach allows teachers to prepare middle school students for the increasing pressure of high stakes tests in high school by increasing motivation, knowledge retention, and problem-solving skills.
Perhaps most importantly, using an integrated approach to the middle school curriculum helps prepare students for lifelong learning.
This article was contributed by Tara Musslewhite, Social Studies Department Chair at Atascocita Middle School in Humble, Texas. She is also an instructor of Pedagogy and Professional Responsibilities at Kingwood College.